SICHUAN, CHINA— Five years ago, China’s Wenchuan earthquake became one of the world’s most devastating natural disasters when it struck southern Sichuan province. The eight-point-zero quake killed nearly 90,000 people, toppled hundreds of thousands of buildings and permanently changed many families.
Ma Tang was just 12 years old when the Wenchuan earthquake robbed him of his father. He is 17 now, his mother has remarried and his young step-sister keeps him busy.
“After the earthquake my mom cried a lot and when she did, I would cry with her. At first, she didn’t want to remarry, but she also wanted to take good care of me. She was under a lot of pressure," he said. "So I was very happy when neighbors introduced her to possible partners. I liked my step-dad very much when I met him, he is very good to me and he is also very handsome."
Four years ago, VOA met Ma Tang’s step-father Yao Yunbing. At the time, Yao was still struggling to cope with the loss of his wife and 17-year-old daughter. Both died during the quake.
Yao’s daughter was one of the thousands of students who died when their schools collapsed on them.
In late 2009, Yao and Ma Tang’s mother married.
“At first everything was very normal and simple. At times we would argue. He said that if we didn't have a child we should split up. He had been through a lot and he often got angry and cried. When I saw him cry I would cry as well, but then after the baby was born he was more at peace,” quake survivor Tang Dongmei recalled.
The massive loss of life from the quake was partly due to shoddy construction - particularly government-built schools. As the death toll rose, so did the public backlash against authorities.
Now, many here have taken out bank loans to supplement the reconstruction funds they received from the government, to ensure homes are stronger and safer.
But analysts said more needs to be done.
“I think that awareness of anti-seismic construction and disaster prevention is now what is most lacking," said Long Enshen, who is with Sichuan University’s Institute of Disaster Management and Reconstruction. "And I believe that we need to strengthen every day action by the government and by non-government organizations to help with these matters.”
The Yao family’s home was rebuilt using steel and cement, but they are struggling to pay off their loan.
Yao works eight hours away and comes home once a week. Ma Tang’s mother would like to work too, but said opportunities are few as she never finished elementary school.
Keenly aware of his family’s challenges, Ma Tang said that when he wants to buy something he thinks first of his young step-sister.
He said he loves sports and wants to play soccer in high school. Ma Tang said he hopes some day he might even get a chance to play on the national team.